Thunders 109, Celtics 104

Celtics can’t silence Durant

The Oklahoma kid shoots them down

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / April 1, 2010

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Before he did anything, Doc Rivers turned the Celtics’ shooting percentage last night (59.5) into a glass of water, deciding that he would look at it as half-full rather than half-empty.

“You guys would say 59 percent because you’re pessimists;’’ Rivers said, joking with the media after his team’s 109-104 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. “I say 60 percent because I’m an optimist.’’

It was the kind of game in which numbers defied logic. The Celtics shot lights-out and somehow still lost.

They put six players in double digits, got 36 points from their bench, and saw Rasheed Wallace (team-high 18 points) submit the type of scoring performance they hadn’t seen in months. But in the end, a defensive-minded team found itself playing a game of last shot wins against a team with arguably the best scorer in the league.

“It’s tough,’’ said Paul Pierce, who shook off the effects of two shoulder stingers in a three-day span to score 15 points. “You look at it, shooting so good and it not paying dividends in the win column. It’s tough to swallow.’’

Kevin Garnett put up 18 points and nine rebounds. Rajon Rondo posted a 16-point, 11-assist double-double. Glen Davis added 10 points off the bench, and yet it wasn’t enough.

The Celtics hit 44 of 74 field goals, but they got into a shootout with a team that came in averaging 100 points. They “held’’ the young, explosive Thunder to 50.7 percent shooting. But the one factor they couldn’t control was Kevin Durant, who has made scoring binges look routine.

Last night’s 37-point outing — his 40th game this season with at least 30 points — was no different.

Durant quietly threw darts at the Celtics, going 10 of 20 from the floor. When Wallace knocked down a 3-pointer to make it 99-98 with 4:22 left, Durant answered with a 20-footer that put the Thunder back up by 1.

But Durant’s most damaging blows came from the free throw line, where he knocked down all of his game-high 15 attempts, including two after drawing a foul on Pierce that left the Celtics captain so mad that he stomped from the free throw line to the corner of the court. The free throws put the Thunder ahead, 102-101, and from that point they never trailed.

“It was a battle of the offenses, it seemed like, and whoever had the ball last was going to win,’’ Pierce said. “Both teams really had a good rhythm going on the offensive end and we were struggling to get stops and they were, too. It was that type of night. They really executed well, they put Durant in great positions to score, where it was really hard to trap him, and they spread the court and that’s why it was a big game. He goes to the line 15 times and that’s why he’s the league’s leading scorer.’’

The Celtics’ defense was almost uncharacteristic.

“Either both teams were horrendous defensively tonight, or that’s good offense,’’ said Rivers. “But I actually thought both teams — hands were in the face, guys were making shots. It was a good night for basketball if you’re a fan. I’d take the 80-79 game, personally. No, it was a good night, except for the way we lost.’’

Saying the Thunder lured the Celtics into their style would be incorrect.

“They got lured into it by us,’’ Rivers said. “We were shooting the ball better, they just got to the foul line more.’’

Boston was shooting 71.1 percent at the half, fueled by Pierce’s 14 points. The Celtics put up their biggest quarter of the season, hanging 38 points on the Thunder in the second. Pierce scored 10 points in the period, finishing a 3-point play that gave the Celtics a 59-57 lead that stopped a brief back-and-forth stretch. But he was quiet from that point on, while Durant scored 20 points in the second half.

The Celtics have split the first four games of their six-game homestand, with the Rockets coming in tomorrow and the conference-leading Cavaliers looming Easter Sunday.

“This one definitely hurts,’’ Pierce said. “We felt like this was a game we were going to get, especially after a disappointing loss. But I like the way we battled, and I can expect us to be that way each and every night for the rest of the season and going into the playoffs. Somehow we have to find a way to win these close ones.’’

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